A lot of outside influences affect our ability to handle stress: family, career – even your own expectations of how 'life should be' put their own dents into peace of mind.

Everything in life is affected by how you feel and let’s face it, modern life is not about contentment! Through the media we’re shown how to improve, to achieve, do this, go here, buy that and it will make us more successful - better - more attractive even - or happier. But none of it does.

When you are stressed, your body gets used to it. It’s possible to be permanently over-stressed without the brain even noticing your body is suffering. When the body is ready for action; not the sudden ‘fight or flight’ response but the slow burn of never properly relaxing, other systems slow down or stop working. Digestive and reproductive systems go on ‘hold’ for as long as the state lasts, which could be years. Take a look at the range of indigestion medicines in the supermarket next time and you’ll see the scale of the problem.

Managing the art of properly relaxing actually makes you more productive, if you’re not tense your mental processes are more efficient. It is simple but also enormously difficult, because your brain tries to keep going at the normal rate. Brains like complicated things to weasel solutions from, simple things give them nothing to do but relax.

4 Really Effective Ways to Relax

1. Take a deep breath and let it go. Take another, then another - slow and even. Count the breaths up to 10. Shallow breathing happens when we're busy or stressed, and taking a break for even 5 long, deep breaths calms the mind. The great thing about breathing breaks is you can do them anywhere.

2. If you need to walk anywhere, even just round the house: halve your speed and lengthen your stride. You’ll find that your breathing will equalize with your stride length, short stride=short breath, log stride=long breath.

3. Be aware of your body, don’t ‘live in your head’. It’s easier to feel where your tension is if you’re in touch with the physical you. Work your way up your body: think ‘toes’, ‘calves’, ‘knees’ etc. when sitting or standing. Be conscious of all the little bits of your body that go to make the wonderful unique you. Your body really is a miracle!

4. This is a great meditation that you can do in 5 or 15 minutes:

The brain processes colours in the same sequence as the colour spectrum. By visualising each of the colours in the spectrum in turn, this exercise relaxes the mind and strengthens the immune system. If you find visualising difficult, use the following to help you:

Imagine taking the first step up on a staircase. The colour of this step is red; imagine the step lit up with red until you can see it vividly. The next step is orange; the next one up is yellow. Imagine each of the colours as brightly as you can, use words to help you like ‘the sun’ or ‘blue sky’. The next step up is green, then light blue, indigo and violet. Some colours will be harder than others to ‘see’, but stay on the step until you can imagine the most vivid shade, then step up to the next colour. When you get to the top, imagine the very top step as white. See it lighting up your whole body before letting the image fade away.

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